Cheap Thrills

By Tom Neale, 7/8/2010


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Discount bungee jumping isn’t the kind of cheap thrill I’m looking for. Budget boating is. I’ve been boating cheap since before the cows started coming home. I can’t say that I’m proud of it, but I can’t say that I’m not, either. I can say it’s the only way I could’ve been on the water all my life. And even though the concept may seem oxymoronic, there are some ways you can actually do it--sometimes.

Some Basics

The first basic is to not kill yourself in the process. Being out on the water is inherently dangerous, notwithstanding certain boating commercials and media stunts that suggest the contrary. We’re land creatures, not sea creatures, and this means that we must be extra careful when boating. Cheap stuff can and often does detract from safety. The second basic is to remember the ultimate goal of boating: to enjoy the wonderful experience of being on the water. That doesn’t include oily bilge water up to your knees because you used a gate valve instead of a marine ball valve.

Be Realistic

Enjoy the Boat That You Have
Don’t buy a boat that’s more than what you need and are going to actually use. Don’t let your fantasies overrule the truth of what’s going to make you happy or the hard cold facts of your bank account. You’re not really going to be happy and have fun if you can’t pay for the thing. The trick is to find out what is going to work for you before you buy. And you can’t really do that by listening to and reading hype. Listen to yourself and knowledgeable friends and professionals who don’t have an ax to grind.

Know When You Can Get By With Non Marine Products

You don’t always have to buy marine products. But it’s critical to learn to distinguish between non-marine products that are OK on a boat and those which can cause problems. For example, we have a home entertainment center aboard that’s off-the-shelf and powered by 110 volt AC. When sitting at anchor, we power the system through a Xantrex inverter designed for marine use. The sound system presents no problems, but I’d never consider using an inverter or battery charger that wasn’t approved for marine use. This could cause problems such as fire, electrolysis and electrocution

As another example, high quality marine foul weather gear is great. I have a set. I spend a lot of time underway and offshore. But for going out fishing for a few hours or knocking about on the weekends I wear cheap rain gear. It may not “breathe,” but it does the job.

Think of the Long Run

Distinguish the situations where scrimping can cost more in the long run than what you save. Buying an anchor line that’s too thin is an obvious example, as is buying an anchor that is too small or a less expensive imitation of a well known brand. A cheap inflatable tender may look good when you buy it, but if you have to replace it twice during which time a single quality inflatable would have kept on trucking, you probably haven’t saved any money. Cheap grade vinyl “windows” for cockpit and flying bridge enclosures will soon discolor and crack.

Beware of Look Alike Imitations of Known Marine Products

When I buy “marine” or any other kind of products, I stay away from products that are apparently packaged to look like an old standard tried and true long recognized product, although, in fact, it’s made by someone else. I don’t trust a manufacturer who does this. Having said this, I have to admit that it’s true that some of these products perform just as well as the original brand. But it pays to be skeptical.

Labels and manufacturer spec sheets may be a great tool for deciding whether the cheaper product is going to do its job. For example, labels can even be important as to hardware. Something may look like stainless, but actually be chrome coated zinc

Tom’s Tips About Budget Boating

1. Take advantage of nautical flea markets. Whether they’re for charity, for strictly business, highly organized or just for fun, you may be surprised at what you can get for cheap.

2. Don’t forget your boat in down times.

Click Here for More Tips

Maintain Maintain Maintain

The more maintenance and repair work you can do well yourself, the more money you’ll save. There are four basic tricks to remember.

Know your limits. There are certain things that many of us can’t do. To undertake those to save money is asking for trouble and large expenses.

Get the education needed to do things yourself. Going to schools at boat shows and owner rendezvous is but the start of this process. Read technical sections of magazines and invest in marine how-to books. When you must hire a professional, watch him and learn from him.

Invest in good tools. They may be expensive, but if you use them well they can save you a fortune. But don’t go out and buy one of those large expensive pre-packaged sets of tools. Many large packages of tools have a seemingly lower price because they include a number of items that you’ll seldom, if ever, use. We aren’t all capable of being master mechanics or craftsmen. Some of us simply don’t have the aptitude for that sort of thing. You probably have an idea of where you fall, though it may not hurt to challenge yourself to see what you can learn. So build your tool set as you build your skills.

Learn how to use the things that you have. For example, when coiling that expensive anchor line, don’t do it around your arm. Loop it and shake it out as you do so to allow the strands to lay in the coil naturally rather than being forced to lay across themselves, resulting in kinking and early fatigue.

Do More for Less

Spend the Day at the Beach
When you take off for the day or weekend (or longer), do things that don’t cost much. You don’t have to go to a fancy waterside restaurant and spend a small fortune to be part of an “in” crowd. Consider going to a nearby beach where you can anchor off and wade in, or perhaps snug your bow up onto the sand.

Anchoring out for one or more nights during a vacation or weekend can add a lot of enjoyment and save a lot of money. And don’t feel that you necessarily must buy a larger boat that you can’t afford to get more boating fun. For example, with a 21 (+ or -) foot open family day tripping boat it may be easy to rig a tarp to make a tent, with mosquito netting, over one section for overnight sleeping.

Other Ways to Save Money

Share boating. Depending on your boat and what you like to do, it can make a lot of sense to take turns riding or fishing on other owners’ boats and vice versa, sharing the costs. You may want to investigate some of the numerous fractional ownership options available now, but be sure that you fully understand the terms and conditions if you decide to buy into one.

Review your insurance policy. There may be some provisions that you can temporarily cancel resulting in a savings. For example, you may be able to decrease your limits of navigation if you’re not roaming as far, or it might make sense to raise your deductible. Read your fine print and ask the insurer for help. They want to keep your business and you might be surprised at what they may do. Don’t uninsure your boat because you must keep it on the hard. But you may be able to get a lower rate. I’ve found BoatUS insurance underwriters to be very helpful

Don’t Get Out of Boating

Some are getting out of boating. To me that would be giving up on one of the best parts of life. Do your best to stick with boating if you love it. It’ll be much more expensive to start up again if you let it go down the tubes now.


Copyright 2004-2010 Tom Neale

Boating and water sports involve risk.  Any comments herein should be followed at your own risk.  You assume all responsibility for risk or injury to yourself or others.  Any person or entity that uses this information in any way, as a condition of that use, agrees to waive and does waive and also hold authors harmless from any and all claims which may arise from or be related to that use.